Saturday, December 26, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Eagle days will be held again soon, Saturday & Sunday Jan. 16-17, 2010 at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge 9 am - 3 pm.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Geological tourism is subtle. Merry and I love it. Often the sights require special attention because they are not apparent to the casual passer-by. Over the years we have bagged much of the really big game of the geologically motivated: the Grand Canyon, of course; the Utah marvels of Bryce, Zion and Arches along with the lesser known but truly amazing Capital Reef; the stratovolcanos of the Northwest, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker and Mt. St. Helens; the magnitude one springs of Florida and Missouri ... I could go on. Many of the most memorable places, however, are of more subtle form. Last Saturday we toured two of the marvels of the St. Francois [pronounced Francis] Mountains.
The St. Francois Mountains are the tallest and only true mountains in Missouri. They run through part of southeastern Missouri beginning about 50 miles south of St. Louis. They are between the eastern edge of the Ozarks and the Mississippi. Any geologist worth his or her salt will tell you the Ozark “mountains” are not proper mountains at all, but a plateau deeply dissected by valleys. The St. Francois range contains the highest point in the state, Taum Sauk, at a modest height of 1772 feet (540 meters). These rounded hills are actually among the oldest mountains on earth having been formed by volcanic activity about 1.5 billion years ago. By comparison the Appalachian range started to lift about 460 million years ago, the Rockies about 70 million years ago and our beloved Adirondacks only 5 million years ago. The St. Francois are so modest today because they've sustained a lot of wear over the eons. They are probably the only area of of the midwest not to have been submerged during the Paleozoic era. Ancient corals along their base indicate they probably were a solitary island chain at the time. They were also never scraped clean by glaciers during the ice ages.
The St. Francois Mountains are the center of Missouri commercial mining. Mineral deposits in and near the mountains yield lead, iron, baryte, zinc, silver, manganese, cobalt, and nickel ores. The area today accounts for over 90% of primary lead production in the United States. I wrote about that in last weekend's post on the Bonne Terre mine. Granite has also been commercially quarried in the area since 1869. The area around Elephant Rocks State Park produces a deep red tone granite that was used for the towers of the first bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis as well as for the thousands of shoebox sized paving blocks on the St. Louis waterfront. Granite mining continues in the area today producing primarily Missouri Red monument stone.
People generally don't come upon Elephant Rocks by accident. It's miles off any Interstate tucked back the Acadia valley near the small towns of Pilot Knob, Ironton, and Graniteville. Technically Elephant Rocks is a “tor” or weathered outcropping of rock along a ridge line. A mile or so of the north ridge here has a line of pink, lichen encrusted granite outcroppings topped with giant rounded boulders. Granite erodes very slowly, so these boulders were a long time in the making. Because many of the boulders are in a line, nearly touching, they remind people of circus elephants.
On the fine warm day we visited people were everywhere but it was not really crowded. There are a lot of rocks to scramble around on, a human jungle gym. Back in the 19th century small entrepreneurs decided this was an excellent and easy place to mine building stone. Two abandoned granite quarries are on the park property and a few more small quarries, one still in operation, are nearby. There are piles and piles of large blocks of granite everywhere. The woods are full of stone, cut but never used. Down one side trail is an old railroad engine repair shop, its roof long gone but its double thick walls of pink granite as solid as the day they were laid by skilled masons more than 100 years ago. It's a minor miracle that the stone cutters didn't finish the job of taking this formation apart block by block.
Joli, the dog ambassador, greeted everyone on the trail, especially the kids. Once she was surrounded by about 10 pre-teen boys who were finally ordered to stop petting her by their grumpy adult group leader. On top of the ridge among the Elephants Rocks are a series of depressions filled with rain water that she found made great drinking dishes and also worked as a serviceable cooling bath.
Back when this area was the exclusive realm of the stonecutter, the quarry workers must have taken their lunch breaks up with the Elephants. They used their quarry tools to carefully carve their names in the granite underfoot all along the ridge. The letters are still clear and sharp. The lettering is familiar, exactly what you would see on a grave stone. It's an unusual form of graffiti, slowly turning into a landmark. We even found a handsome “Edward” carved by a long forgotten stonecutter. I'm sure his view of these mountains in the late fall was nearly the same as ours.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Bonne Terre, MO, population 4,939, is about 60 miles directly south of St. Louis. From 1864 until 1960 it was home to what became the largest lead mine in the world. Lead was extracted in this area as early as 1720 by the French. Surface mining of lead quickly spread throughout the eastern Ozarks becoming one of the engines for European settlement. Prior to the Civil War the primary uses of lead was for water pipes, containers, white pigment [remember lead paint?], manufacture of crystal and roofing. The Civil War caused a significant increase in the demand for lead as bullets and shot.
On March 25, 1864, six New York businessmen incorporated the St. Joseph Lead Company. Few of the incorporators knew or cared much about the mining business. They bought the 950 acres known as Bonne Terre for $25,000 cash and $50,000 in unsecured bonds. They hoped that the mere possibility of a profitable lead mine might bring investors and they would get rich. One hopeful stockholder who attended the 1865 annual meeting in New York City was J. Wyman Jones, a young lawyer from Utica, NY. In a turn of events common in those robber baron times he was promptly named president of the company. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mostfran/mine_history/stjoe_history.htm Jones turned out to be a terrific manager. The mine prospered.
On a tree-lined street with a few modest Victorian homes in the middle of town is a block surrounded by a high board fence. In the center of the gravel parking lot inside sits a square green building with a sign over double doors reading “Mule Entrance.” Old, rusting mining gear, small gauge mining cars and power shovels are scattered around. Along the back is a row of tired storefronts with a board sidewalk. There's a general store, but the rest are labeled: Showers, Changing Rooms, Diver's Lounge. The store is locked with a sign that the next tour starts in fifteen minutes. The price for a one hour walking tour is $18 a person, $23 if you add the boat tour. We decide to pass. It is getting late.
Just as we were about to leave two men emerged from nowhere. The older guy with a handlebar mustache dressed in what looked like a painter's outfit introduced himself as Chuck. He wanted to know if we were interested a tour. We hesitated. He unlocked the store and showed us a live video feed from the dock on the underground lake.
It is a scene from another world. Beyond the dock a flood-lit blue green lake stretches in all directions. The roof is supported by huge stone pillars that disappear into darkness. We are hooked.
Back in 1960 the lead ore was running out. A new source of better quality ore was located further into the Ozarks. Bonne Terre Mine closed and the pumps that kept spring water out were turned off. Crystal clear water quickly filled the mine nearly to the top. The town tried using the water for a municipal supply but it had too many dissolved minerals. That's when the owners of a St. Louis Dive shop, Doug and Cathy Georgens, bought the place. They pumped the top two levels of the mine dry and set up “Billion Gallon Lake Resort.” Thanks in no small part to numerous cable TV shows that have featured it, people come from all over the world to scuba dive. http://www.2dive.com/btm.htm
Chuck shows us a fist size chunk of nearly pure galena, the state mineral of Missouri. Galena, or lead sulfide, is silver gray, and has a metallic gleam. He shows us old mining tools and explains their use. We enter the mine and walk down 60 steps or so to the upper level. We are in a series of dimly lit massive rooms each a cube about the size of a city block. Every 40 feet or so a hand-hewn stone column rises to the roof. We look down a shaft where ore was dumped and we can see the lake far below. We work our way down room after room. Some have calcite coated walls, cream colored if iron is mixed in, black if manganese, green if copper, pink if cobalt, stark white if pure.
When the mine was opened in the 19th Century all the work was done by hand using simple tools. Men dug with shovels. They drilled holes by pounding a drill bit with a sledgehammer. They filled the holes with black powder and blew up the rock, hoping not to blow themselves up in the process. They loaded one ton cars by hand. A shift lasted as long as it took to load 22 cars. The cars were hauled along narrow gauge rails by mules. The mules lived their entire working life underground. Day after day for a hundred years the miners broke rock and hauled it out leaving behind this huge void of about 1,500 giant rooms on increasingly deep levels. When the rooms became too tall, they built tottering wooden scaffolds and hung trapezes from the ceilings 50 feet in the darkness where they continued to hammer rock. The work was dangerous and serious injuries frequent. Chuck told us if an injured miner managed to live long enough to be carried out of the mine, the authorities didn't record his death as a mine accident.
We reach the dock and board a pontoon party barge with a silent electric engine. A group of eight divers swim just ahead of us then disappear. We glide from eerie room to room. Lights make the clear water glow green. We can dimly see mining equipment in the deep. I keenly sense the ghosts of long gone miners watching as we trudge back to daylight.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Readers of this blog may remember Al Stix, our crusty tour guide at our recent visit to the Creve Coeur Aircraft Museum. See: http://edpitts.blogspot.com/2009/11/historic-aircraft-restoration-museum.html Sunday afternoon, 11/22/09, Al crashed his yellow mid-1930s Stearman biplane on take-off when the engine lost power. Neither Stix nor his passanger were seriously injured. Stix had started to turn back toward the landing field when a wing caught a tree. According the the Monday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Stix told reporters, "When you fly these old planes, you're bound to have some exciting moments, hopefully, they don't get any more exciting than this." You can read the entire story here: http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/0114B28EB0DCCAC0862576760078BC49?OpenDocument
Saturday, November 21, 2009
When I was in high school my mother suggested from time to time that I become a surgeon. I was a good student and liked science. I have small, fairly delicate hands. I was a pretty good pianist which suggested to her that I had the dexterity she assumed surgeons need.
I found the idea appealing. I had little idea of the work doctors do. What I knew for certain was that I was destined for a life as an intellectual. I loved books and still do. I read voraciously. I was sure as a teenager that a life of physical labor would not suit me well.
So I set off for Bucknell University, a good liberal arts college, with a vague idea of possibly, maybe becoming a doctor. I signed up as a biology major. The first shock came in the second week of my freshman microbiology lab. We were examining a specimen, trying to draw the cells. Everyone else seemed to think this was extremely easy. I couldn't get the damn thing in focus. After a long struggle the lab instructor told me I had just drawn my eyelash.
By mid-term exams I was still struggling with biology lab and way behind my peers in the other subjects. This was new for me. I never failed at any subject but I could see I was on a course to fail now. The one bright light in that first semester was an English Literature course I took to fill a humanities requirement. I loved it. The professor was terrific. I did well. I didn't have a vocational plan but “temporarily” became a humanities major. I tried courses in History, Philosophy and East-Asian Studies. I loved them all and did very well. I started to learn to write. I got a BA in History with Honors. I never doubted my future as an academic as I earned a MA and PhD in philosophy.
In all the years of intense study I never questioned my ability to make a living. I did odd jobs. I taught freshmen and prison inmates. I learned basic plumbing and wiring. I heated with wood and became president of the local food co-op. I surrounded myself with books. I read every day and slowly learned to be a better writer. When I finally finished my PhD it took me a year and a half to land a regular teaching job, but I finally got one at a small Franciscan school in Western New York, St. Bonaventure University.
During my first years at St. Bonaventure I threw myself into really learning how to teach philosophy. It was hard but I had fun. I found I was pretty good at inspiring a fair number of my students to read, write and even think about things they never considered before. I developed a couple of new courses. I helped start a student outdoors club that flourished.
At the end of my second year I was called in by my department head for an evaluation of my work and my progress toward the golden ring of academia, tenure. He started out by praising my work as a teacher. He liked the fact that students gave me good evaluations. I was also pulling my weight in the generally distasteful committee work required of all academics. I was well liked by other members of the department and was fitting in. Unfortunately, he was not able to give me a good recommendation.
The problem, he explained, was that I had never published anything in an academic journal. In fact, I admitted that I was not even working on a research project. I had read a few papers at professional conferences, but that was it. Unless I could get going on something major, I would not be ready by the time my formal tenure review came up the following year and I would be let go.
I walked out of the meeting in shock. All the work I had done counted for nothing. I wrongly assumed that at a small college I would get a lot of credit for being a good teacher. I assumed lack of a research publication might be overlooked. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
About a week later I was starting to get angry. I stopped in to see the department head and asked him to name a journal where he would like to get published. The Journal of the History of Ideas.
Over the next few weeks I poured over that journal trying to get a handle on the sort of articles they generally published. I holed up in a library with a good collection of works by and about Spinoza, a philosopher about whom I knew nothing. I skimmed everything I could find about Spinoza's political and ethical views looking for a topic. Then I focused on carefully reading everything he said on the subject of freedom of speech. I wrote an article of exactly the right length with appropriate footnotes and references. I polished it and sent it in. A few weeks later, just as the summer break was ending, I received the letter telling me the article would be published.
I returned to St. Bonaventure deeply disturbed by this exercise. On first meeting my department head before fall classes I told him I had written an article about Spinoza. Great, he said. Was I working on getting it published? I handed him my acceptance letter. He was pleased, actually quite jealous. I had proved my point. Academic publication is a sham exercise, just part of the hazing, with no practical consequences except in the tenure game. Now I was bitter. I never recovered my enthusiasm.
The next spring my department head told me he was happy to recommend me for tenure. Maybe they would even consider early tenure. By then I was making plans to attend law school with hope that I might find an intellectually honest profession at last. I've not been disappointed.